Ryan loved sport and was a talented golfer. As a child, his dad would drop him off at the golf club during the summer, where he’d play all day. At his peak, Ryan played off a handicap of three. Liverpool Football Club was Ryan’s other great sporting love. He also enjoyed playing pool, darts, and rugby league.
As a young adult, Ryan put himself through college to study carpentry. He took great pride in his work – he was “a bit of a perfectionist” – and was well-paid.
A few days before he died, Ryan was on holiday with his family in Turkey. On the surface, he was his usual happy and bubbly self, but Ryan was grappling with gambling disorder, and had been for many years. A few days after returning from his family holiday, Ryan took his own life. He was just 27 when he died in 2014.
Ryan’s parents, Alison and John, knew very little of their son’s gambling until after his death. It was only when they looked through his bank accounts that they began to understand his gambling disorder. When going through his emails and Facebook account that they found multiple offers of “free bets”, bonuses, and other promotions from gambling companies. They were shocked that the accounts continued to be filled with such emails for a long time after his death.
In the months before he died, Ryan had tried to find help. He emailed one of the companies he was betting with and asked to be self-excluded. He’d also made contact with a recovering gambling addict he encountered on YouTube and told him that he’d been trying to stop gambling, but he said that the sheer volume of advertisements and promotions he encountered daily were making it almost impossible.
To his family, Ryan’s death came completely out of the blue. “You go through so many emotions, start thinking about all the things he said when we were on holiday, trying to work out what happened,” John says. “What had happened? You couldn’t understand – our Ryan was such a happy, bubbly character. I used to feel angry with him sometimes after he died, but then you realise what he must have been going through. I look at pictures of him as a young child and I think: what a waste. What a waste of a talented, lovely boy.”
Following Ryan’s death, John began reaching out to other families affected by gambling addiction, in the hope he can prevent them from experiencing such a tragic loss. He is calling for much tougher regulation of gambling and in particular, he wants strong action on aggressive advertising and marketing – which continued to be sent to Ryan years after he had died – and also to allow gamblers to permanently self-exclude themselves from all gambling sites.